In what should be the last important political event of 2012, the African National Congress’s 53rd elective and policy conference next week will shape politics and much more in South Africa next year and in years to come. While president Jacob Zuma’s re-election seems to be a done deal, a late surprise still cannot be ruled out and a number of question marks hang over his continued presidency.
The conference, starting on Sunday in Mangaung, will put its seal on a number of critical policy decisions, most importantly in the economic sphere. With Zuma repeatedly publicly rejecting the nationalisation of mines the conference will have to consider the alternative and favoured proposal. It includes ‘resource nationalism’, a new mining tax regime and greater state participation in the mining sector. As reported last week, other key policies will also come under consideration.
When the newly elected or re-elected ANC president takes to the podium just over two weeks later, on 8 January, to deliver the ruling party’s annual political statement by its national executive committee (NEC), he will do so with the confidence that he carries the support of the majority in the highly fractured organisation. He will also be armed with a batch of newly ratified policies to set the tone for what is to come.
Possibility of a surprise
However, a late surprise lobbied, engineered and executed at the conference itself involving Zuma’s only possible challenger, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, cannot be ruled out, although it seems unlikely at this stage.
When the provincial nomination process for the top six leadership positions was finally concluded this past week, Zuma emerged with the backing of six provinces and the Veterans’ and Women’s Leagues. Motlanthe, who has not yet indicated whether he will accept nomination, had the blessing of three provinces and the ANC Youth League.
The ANC’s allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) also gave Zuma the thumbs up. Neither however, has separate voting delegates at the conference although many of their members will be in some of the delegations at the conference.
Earlier this year, the anti-Zuma campaign ran strongly and Zuma seemed in danger of having to retire after December. This seemed to be the case right up to the national policy conference in June where his ‘second transition’ economic policy proposal was defeated thanks, in no small measure, to Motlanthe and his backers.
But then Zuma’s election machine went into action. It included a network of powerful and influential politicians from the Cabinet, the NEC, provincial and regional leadership structures, branches, the leagues and allied organisations.
Unlike that of his opponents, his campaign was built around positives. At no stage did he play the man and not even expelled youth leader, Julius Malema, who had repeatedly insulted and bad-mouthed his erstwhile mentor.
Motlanthe’s campaign also peaked too soon, running out of steam just as Zuma’s campaign was really taking off. Then Zuma’s camp came with a master stroke that may have sidelined Motlanthe, offering him the deputy presidency provided he did not stand against Zuma for president.
However, Motlanthe’s hesitation and principled stand that he would only take his cue from the branches saw him dropped by the Zuma camp altogether. Businessman Cyril Ramaphosa was nominated instead for the deputy president position.
As things stand now, Zuma has a clear majority. But only three provinces really support him strongly. One province and one league strongly support Motlanthe. All the other provinces and leagues are more or less split down the middle. This makes Zuma and Motlanthe more evenly supported than it might seem and maybe just enough to possibly still tempt Motlanthe into challenging Zuma.
Many branch delegates at the provincial nomination conferences may have voted under compromising circumstances. There were many allegations of vote rigging, ghost voters, intimidation and other irregularities levelled by the Motlanthe camp. If true – and there seems to be ample evidence that it is – nothing prevents these delegates from changing their vote in the national conference’s secret ballot in favour of Motlanthe should he decide to stand.
The real question is: what is Motlanthe’s campaign doing behind the scenes during the final countdown to influence hesitant delegates? What does their intelligence tell them about the possibility of a swing vote at Mangaung? And, if any, what other tricks do they have up their sleeve?
But assuming Zuma is victorious, it will not be the end of his or the ANC’s many troubles. In fact, regardless of who wins the presidency, the ANC will still be seriously divided with factions competing for control and some provinces acting in open rebellion against Luthuli House.
The broader alliance will still teeter on the brink of disintegration as tensions between especially Cosatu and the ANC increase around issues such as labour brokers, economic policy, nationalisation, Gauteng’s e-tolling, and more. And there remains the threat of a new breakaway party being formed by ANC persons as yet unknown.
For Zuma personally a rough 2013 awaits. A concerted campaign is being driven by the political opposition, sections of the media, various civil society groups and formations, ethics watchdogs, revenge-seekers and others who are on a determined mission to reopen the over 700 corruption and related charges that were dropped in 2009 on technical considerations rather than their substance.
Adding to this are further exposures around the so-called ‘spy tapes’ and Zuma’s private homestead at Nkandla, the people who with donations funded its initial building, and the subsequent upgrades at the taxpayers’ expense.
When Parliament reconvenes next year, Zuma’s enemies – both inside and outside his own party – could well deal him a heavy political blow in the still pending no-confidence debate. Therefore, while he may win the presidency, 2013 is not going to be plain sailing for Zuma.